Eddie Miles has driven a long road as Elvis Presley

Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

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Eddie Miles will perform as Elvis Presley on Saturday at Great Mills High School.

When Elvis Presley died, Eddie Miles had recently "gotten out of high school." He was a newlywed who had a construction job and a couple of "Elvis routines" on the side.

Miles did not really plan to do anything with these routines. Back then, when he heard the news about the King, he thought he might stop performing them altogether.

What actually happened, though, was that Miles began to perform the routines more often. As it happens, the Elvis phenomenon and everything it entails — from impersonations to the tribute acts, memorabilia, "sightings" and visits to Graceland — was only beginning.

Even today the phenomenon continues to grow. Nowadays, in fact, when Miles performs his show at a theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where he lives, he will tell his audience that "you can't seem to swing a cat through this town without hitting an Elvis impersonator." By his count, there are almost 10 in Pigeon Forge.

Even Miles, a Kentucky native, said he finds it hard to fathom how many Elvis impersonators are out there. Frankly, he thinks plenty of Elvis entertainers "make a mockery out of it."

"I don't really care for it when a guy can't sing on pitch," he said, "and there are thousands of guys doing it."

Miles, though, said he is quite confident that his own act is among the best, and there appears to be enough evidence to back him up. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence that supports the professionalism of his act, though, is the very fact that Miles, born in 1955, has been working on it for roughly 80 percent of his life.

As a child, Miles, who picked up guitar at 10, formed a quartet with his younger siblings. They were a variety groups playing music of the 1950s and '60s: The Beatles, Elvis and lots of country, including Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

"If it was an Elvis song, like anyone else, I tried to sound like him," Miles recalled during a phone interview. "If it was Johnny Cash, I tried to sound like him, too. ... I guess I developed a pretty good voice for mimicking the singing styles of other people." But his Elvis renditions always got the most applause.

Since, Miles' repertoire has hardly changed. Sure, he no longer tours with a band. And nowadays he sports authentic jumpsuits.

Even still, his act begins with a 60-minute salute to country legends the likes of Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard. Then, after intermission, he returns for a 70-minute, soundtracked tribute to the King.

While critics are fairly up in the air when it comes to their appraisals of Elvis' work after the early Sun recordings, Miles said he likes it all and seems to actually be most fond of Elvis' catalogue post-'68 comeback. Appearancewise, anyway, that's the Elvis he conjures. Another way to look at it: By representing the later Elvis, he then has the ability to use the full range of his work.

Miles always wanted to be an entertainer. But after serving in the U.S. Air Force, and with a family to support, he secured steady employment and worked his act on the side. In the mid-1980s, he picked up some state fair dates, and the crowds started getting bigger. He developed a following at the Iowa State Fair; they started a fan club, and the jobs starting coming.

For years he worked with a 12-piece band. He even had a theater, first in Pigeon Forge, then in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His touring schedule still includes two monthly performances in those towns.

This will be Miles' fourth or fifth time in Southern Maryland, and his second time as a guest of the Leonardtown Rotary Performing Arts Series.

The Rotary's special projects coordinator, Brad Reeves, described Miles as "a very personable entertainer." Reeves added, "He engages the audience. He talks to them."

Miles' act also is approved by Calvert County's Jim Godbold, the "Rockin' Elvis." Goldbold affirmed the need for Elvis impersonators to interact with the audience: "For me to be stuck onstage performing, that's about the most boring thing I could do," he said.

Miles decided a long time ago that he would not portray Elvis' personality onstage; he called it "hokey." He said he did not want to talk in the first person. What he wanted to do was put on a show and bring back a few memories.

Miles heard Elvis on the radio at 5 and was instantly hooked, he said. As soon as he was old enough to drive, and had enough money to buy a car, he and a friend embarked on a long drive to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. Now a museum, the site is the second most visited private home in America. Back then, in the early '70s, Miles thought he saw a statue in the front yard.

"I can remember now like it was yesterday," he said. Suddenly, the statue moved: It was Elvis, dressed in a gold robe with purple trim.

"He must have been praying," Miles recalled. "There must have been a reason he was so still."

Fast-forward to the 50th anniversary of Elvis' breakthrough, "That's All Right, Mama." Miles was in Memphis when he received an invitation to attend a dinner with the likes of Elvis' backup group, The Jordanaires, and his longtime drummer, D.J. Fontana.

"There I was with the guys that started it," he said. "I got a real kick out of that."

The Leonardtown Rotary Club Performing Arts Series will continue with a concert by Elvis impersonator Eddie Miles at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in Great Mills High School's auditorium. The series will also include the Maryland State Boychoir on Dec. 4; and David Pengelly, a singer and humorist, on Jan. 8. Tickets are $25, $15 for children younger than 15. Tickets will be sold at the door. Call 301-475-6999.